In this week's episode of the podcast, I chat with Kelly Kessler, Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at DePaul University, about her new book Broadway in the Box: Television's Lasting Love Affair with the Musical.
We talk about Kelly's research, why television networks produce live musicals, the role of adverts, the first musicals on television, the first Broadway musical to air live on television (and who got to watch it), and why we should put musicals on television!
Broadway in the Box: Television's Lasting Love Affair with the Musical is available at all major bookstores.
About This Week's Guest
Kelly Kessler is an Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at DePaul University. Her work draws on three main areas: the American musical, the intersection of genre and gender, and the mainstreaming of lesbianism in American television and film. Her scholarship can be found in works such as Studies in Musical Theatre, The Journal of E-Media Studies, The Journal of Popular Music Studies, Television and New Media, Movies, Moves, and Music: The Sonic World of the Dance Film, Televising Queer Women: A Reader, and The New Queer Aesthetic on Television: Essays on Recent Programming. Kessler has published two books, including Destabilizing the Hollywood Musical: Music, Masculinity and Mayhem and Broadway in the Box: Television's Lasting Love Affair with the Musical.
My first exposure to a musical not in English was the 10th Anniversary Concert of Les Miserables where 17 Valjeans from “just some of the world-wide productions” sang “Do You Hear the People Sing” in 13 different languages. Currently holding the title as the longest running West End musical, Les Miserables is itself an English translation of a French musical (Herbert Kretzmer, who provided the libretto for the English version, recently passed away at the age of 95).
Filmed live musicals in languages other than English are currently lacking from the database, but there is certainly a plethora of them out there. Some of the titles are translations of English-language musicals, but many are original musicals, showing the popularity of the musical form worldwide.
Here’s a brief look at filmed live musicals in Dutch, Korean, Russian, and Spanish, that have been released online in 2020.
Dutch company De Graaf & Cornelissen Entertainment have released four full-length filmed live musicals for free on YouTube including Wat Zien Ik?! (What Do I See?!), Liesbeth, Volendam, and Op Hoop Van Zegen (Hoping for the Best).
Wat Zien Ik?! is based on the book by Albert Mol. The musical premiered in October 2006 and ran until May 2007. Wat Zien Ik?! is set in the 1960s and follows the trials and tribulations of two women who work in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.
Liesbeth is a biographical musical about Dutch entertainer Liesbeth List who was famous for her interpretations of the songs of Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf. The musical premiered in October 2017, and closed in January 2018.
Set in a village fair, Volendam tells the story of a woman named Mary, who returns to the town of her childhood, and must confront her past. The musical was performed from November 2010 until April 2011.
Based on the 1900 play, Op Hoop Van Zegen, tells the story of a fisherman’s widow and her fight for survival amidst social injustice. The production was filmed in 2008.
Efteling is a Dutch fantasy-themed amusement park that pre-dates Disneyland by three years. The park’s theatre, Efteling Theater have released several filmed live musicals on their YouTube channel including Sprookjessprokkelaar de musical (Fairytale Collector: The Musical), De gelaarsde Kat (Puss in Boots), Pinokkio, and three Sprookjesboom de Musical (Fairytale Tree the Musical) titles. All are freely available on the Efteling YouTube channel, and have received hundreds of thousands of views.
Commencing with Korean-language versions of RENT in 2000, The Phantom of the Opera in 2001, and Mozart Das Musikal in 2010, American and European musicals have become an immensely popular form of entertainment in Korea, growing to a $300 million business. In an effort to further boost ticket sales in a saturated market, producers have stunt cast K-pop and soap opera stars in lead roles for select performances.
Although some theatres in Korea have managed to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic, audience numbers are obviously lower than normal. Producers have turned to livestreams to boost sales and provide audiences at home with musical theatre content.
Produced by the Korean Army and Insight Entertainment, Korean musical Return: The Promise of the Day was livestreamed over four performances in late September and featured K-pop stars D.O. and Xiumin of EXO and former Wanna One member Yoon Ji-sung. The musical tells the story of a Korean War vet who goes in search of his lost comrades. Viewers were required to purchase tickets to view the stream, which was also broadcast with English subtitles.
Sonata of a Flame, starring Ryeowook of Super Junior, Hui of Pentagon, and Yoo Hwe-seung of N. Flying, was livestreamed over thirteen performances from September 18 - 26. Like Return, viewers were required to purchase tickets to watch the stream, which was available worldwide (though not in China or Indonesia).
In September K-Musical On Air hosted a free online musical theatre festival. featuring “four of the hottest Korean musicals in real time.” The musicals included The Fan Letter, The Goddess is Watching You, Red Cliff, and The Fiction. English subtitles were available for viewers watching on V Live. The festival was an initiative of the Korea Tourism Organization, which since 2017 has sponsored 14 Korean musicals to provide foreign-language subtitles.
The Fan Letter is a fictional re-telling of historical events as seen by artists and writers during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1930s.
Set during the Korean war, The Goddess is Watching tells the story of two soldiers from North and South Korea who find themselves on uninhabited islands during the conflict. The musical premiered in 2013, and has been playing ever since.
Produced by Jeongdong Theater in Seoul, Red Cliff first opened in 2017 and has proved a popular draw. Influenced by pansori, a traditional Korean form of musical storytelling using drums and singing, Red Cliff is based on one of five pansori tales, “Jeokbyeokga”, which means “The Song of the Red Cliffs.” Red Cliff was also streamed for one night on Jeondong Theater’s YouTube channel in April.
Also set in the 1930s, though this time in New York City, The Fiction is a murder mystery musical. It was first developed through the “Prepare for Your Debut” project hosted by the Korea Creative Content Agency in 2016. The Fiction received praise at the Daegu International Musical Festival in 2017.
The Daegu International Musical Festival also has several full-length videos on their YouTube channel.
At the end of June, the American streaming service Broadway on Demand streamed the Korean language musical XCalibur. Produced by EMK, with a score by Frank Wildhorn, XCalibur is a re-telling of the King Arthur legend, and featured Exo K-pop star Kai. It was available to stream on Broadway on Demand between June 27 and July 6, 2020.
Originally a German musical, Mozart das Musical was translated into Korean and presented by EMK in 2010. The musical was very popular, and was re-staged for a 10th anniversary production in early 2020. The musical was streamed on Naver and VLive on October 3 and 4.
New Korean streaming service IM.Culture will stream Legendary Little Basketball Team, an original musical about a basketball coach and his ailing team, on November 1 and 2.
In a similar trend to Korea, American and British musicals have seen a swell in popularity in the 21st century. Since 2008, the Moscow Operetta Theatre has sought to create original Russian-language musicals that according to Russia Beyond the Headlines reporter Julia Shevelkina, appeal to audiences “who love costume dramas,” and “a minister of culture who didn’t want state-run theatres to stage radical modern plays.”
Stage Russia have released two Moscow Operetta Theatre musicals online, Count Orlov and Anna Karenina. Both are based on Russian novels, and feature sumptuous costumes, striking scenic design, and epic Euro-pop scores. Both are also streamed with English subtitles.
Although it was filmed without a live audience, the Spanish-language Mexican production Daddy Long Legs, Papi Piernas Largas, is a delight. Produced by Oak Live, the two-hander musical was performed live to an empty theatre in Mexico City in early October, and streamed on Ticketmaster Live. The production was reminiscent of the off-Broadway production (the first off-Broadway musical to be livestreamed), though it had slightly different staging which included a clever story-book set. Papi Piernas Largas will stream again via Ticketmaster on November 15 (tickets are around $10US). English subtitles are not available.
Also streaming on Ticketmaster Mexico is La Juala de Las Locas, a Spanish-language production of La Cage Aux Folles. Filmed live with an audience, the the production was streamed live on October 17. It will be available stream again on November 20 via Ticketmaster, though it is currently only available to stream in Mexico.
Mentiras El Musical (Lies the Musical) is a Spanish-language Mexican jukebox musical that incorporates pop songs from the 1980s. Mentiras will be streamed live via Multistellar on November 7.
The popular Spanish-language production of The Man of La Mancha, El Hombre de La Mancha, will stream on November 14. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster.
On November 21 and 22, Shakespeare Foro in Mexico City will stream a Spanish-language production of End of the Rainbow, Al Fin del Arcoiris, a musical drama about the final days of Judy Garland. Tickets are available via Shakespeare Foro.
And to cap off the list, you can belatedly celebrate Dia de los Muertos with Si, Nos Dejan! (If They Let Us!), a Mexican musical celebrating the history of Mexican cinema. Filmed live at the Mejor Teatro in 2011, ¡Si, Nos Dejan! was broadcast via Ticketmaster Mexico on September 16, and will be re-broadcast on November 2. Tickets available via Ticketmaster.
Episode 8 of the Filmed Live Musicals podcast is out today! Available wherever you listen to podcasts or online here.
In this week's episode, I chat with actor and Broadway expert Kimberly Faye Greenberg all about her one woman show Fabulous Fanny: The Songs & Stories of Fanny Brice, Barbra Streisand, the technicalities of streaming a show online, creating online “events”, and more!
The Associated Press declared Kimberly Faye Greenberg a "Warm, Sassy Diva!”, while she played leading roles in two off-Broadway musicals at the same time: Danny and Sylvia, The Danny Kaye Musical (as Sylvia Fine) and the solo show One Night with Fanny Brice (receiving a Patrick Lee IBTA Best Solo Performance Award nomination amongst fellow nominees, John Leguizamo, Michael Shannon and Michael Birbiglia). Kimberly's own solo show, Fabulous Fanny: The Songs and Stories of Fanny Brice, has been touring for the past 8 years with the Huffington Post stating the show brings "Fanny Brice to Fabulous Life"!
Fabulous Fanny: The Songs and Stories of Fanny Brice is now available to stream on Stellar. For tickets and to learn more, visit http://www.kimberlyfayegreenberg.com. You can find Kimberly on Instagram at @kfgreenberg.
Take a listen for some fun insights, and if you like what you hear, please rate and review!
Did you know you can access transcripts of each episode?
Visit Buzzsprout and click on the episode title!
Past episodes include Brenda Braxton, Scenesaver with Caroline Friedman, Disney Cruise Line's Tangled with David Colston Corris, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe with Julie Leach and more!
Available wherever you listen to podcasts!
In case you somehow missed it, one of the most vaunted musicals in history, Hamilton was released on Disney+ on July 3rd. While Hamilton is not the first Broadway musical to be streamed online, its prominence and undeniable success may finally be shifting some very deep seated views that filmed live theatre can’t adequately capture the live experience, and that filmed live theatre should exist at all. In an unprecedented move, it was announced earlier in the month the yet-to-officially-open Broadway musical Diana, would be filmed (without an audience) and broadcast on Netflix.
Many people know by now that Disney acquired the distribution rights for the filmed live production of Hamilton for approximately $75million (the final figure was adjusted due to the pandemic and the decision to release it online rather in cinemas). Much like Hamilton and Burr, you gotta be in the room where it happens to get the figures on how much Hamilton is bringing Disney financially, but it seems to bode well. As reported in Variety, early data suggests the musical had a significantly larger audience than any other single program across Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, Apple TV+, and Disney+ in July.
Much like Hamilton and Burr, you gotta be in the room where it happens to get the actual figures on how much Hamilton is bringing Disney financially. At the end of June, just prior to the release of Hamilton, Disney+ reported it had 54.5 million subscribers (for comparison, Netflix currently has about 190 million subscribers worldwide). According to Variety, in comparison to the four weeks prior, the weekend of Hamilton’s digital release saw a 74% increase in Disney+ app downloads within the United States, and 46% worldwide. At the beginning the August, Disney+ reported it had 60.5 million subscribers. These numbers do not include subscribers who purchased subscriptions through packages or where Disney+ is included in existing apps.
Going forward, there are still many questions for producers for consider: when to release filmed live productions, who gets access (due to copyright or union agreements, films may not be able to be released worldwide), if viewers should pay to access streams and for how much, how to fairly compensate cast/crew/creatives, and what platforms to use.
With all that in mind, here’s a look at existing models for distributing filmed live musicals online:
Online video platforms like YouTube and Vimeo have made it easier than ever to just upload existing footage. During the pandemic big names like Andrew Lloyd Webber and the National Theatre have released content for free online. Companies such as Southwark Playhouse, Chichester Festival Theatre, Wise Children, and Wales Millennium Centre, and independent artists like Dave Malloy and Angela Sclafani, have also made filmed live musicals freely available.
The quality of free recordings varies greatly. From productions staged in black box theatres filmed with a camera on a tripod located behind the audience like Beardo, to slick captures like the arena production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Sometimes recordings were made for archival purposes, like Only the Brave and Wasted. Archival recordings vary in quality, but thanks to digital cameras, recent captures make for decent viewing.
The length of time free streams are available can vary. Some are placed online indefinitely, such as The Room and Passion Project. Others, like titles from the National Theatre at Home, The Shows Must Go On, or Wise Children, have a limited window ranging from 48 hours to several weeks.
Unless the producers/creatives uploading material for free are covering the cost of paying artists for use of their work on screen, cast, crew, and creatives are less likely receive any income from free streams. The exception to this is new platform SceneSaver, which encourages viewers to donate the cost of an average ticket, and shares 95% of donations directly with artists (for more info, take a listen to episode 2 of the Filmed Live Musicals podcast for an interview with SceneSaver founder Caroline Friedman).
Especially during the pandemic, viewers are often encouraged to make a donation to the theatre company, or to a selected charity or organization.
There are several kinds of paid options: one-off payments, subscriptions, and passes.
Viewers make a one-time payment or purchase a “ticket” to gain access to the stream. The stream is often played at a scheduled time, and then is available on demand for a limited time. These films usually have a set period of availability, and are sometimes are also limited to a specific number of streams. Occasionally, as in the case of 21 Chump Street: The Musical, the payment provides indefinite access. Companies using this model include Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, Broadway on Demand, and Streaming Musicals.
Like free streams, the quality of content can vary. Particularly during the pandemic, when companies and artists are desperate for cashflow, archival footage not intended for mass consumption has been distributed.
The pricing for one-off payments ranges, though is usually between $10 - $30 USD. Although it is not common, instead of a set price, viewers are sometimes given the option to make a donation, or pay-as-you-like.
Following the Netflix model, subscriptions provide access to a catalog of shows. In the subscription model, like Netflix, titles are usually available for longer periods of time, and can appear and disappear. Most subscriptions run for a year, though some also provide month-to-month payments at a slightly higher rate. BroadwayHD, Stage, PBS, and Disney+ all currently use the subscription model.
Passes work in a similar way to a subscription, but often for a limited time. Prima, a theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, have created passes as varying price points for viewers to gain access to online content. As have SheNYC Arts, a female led organization running online festivals based in New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta over the summer.
Some companies use a combination of models. Broadway on Demand offers some content for free, some content for a one-off fee, and also plans to offer a subscription in the future. Streaming Musicals hosts free premiere nights, and titles are available to rent or buy through one-off payments. Digital Theatre offers an all-access yearly subscription, or the option to rent individual titles. While BroadwayHD offers monthly and yearly subscription models, throughout the pandemic they have been hosting free watch parties in partnership with Playbill, Roundabout, and the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization.
As live theatre online becomes more and more mainstream, and as we learn more about the number of views and profits from ticket sales, it will be interesting to see which models are adopted.
With the pandemic came a plethora of filmed live theatre content being released online. Many in the industry were genuinely surprised that audiences wanted to watch theatre on screen, and even pay for it! As discussed with Caroline Friedman - CEO of the new theatre streaming service Scenesaver - in this month’s podcast, we have been recording live theatre since the invention of the moving picture.
Despite the fact that the first live broadcast of a musical took place in 1939, and even with the release of Hamilton last month, the theatre industry as a whole is still not savvy to the history, magic, and importance of filmed live theatre. In a recent interview for The TheaterMakers Studio, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of BroadwayWorld, claimed that “very little” has happened in the world of filmed live theatre despite decades of discussions. The nearly 200 musicals in the Filmed Live Musicals database heartily disagree! And that doesn’t even include the hundreds, possibly thousands, of operas, plays, ballets, and classical concerts that have been captured and enjoyed by literally millions of people around the world!
After the release of Hamilton, Jon Kamen, CEO of RadicalMedia, reportedly claimed that with the filming of RENT: Live on Broadway in 2008, RadicalMedia had "developed the nomenclature and a whole style of filming it in a very cinematic fashion.” Again, the producers of Pacific Overtures (filmed live in 1976), Into the Woods (filmed in 1991), and the cinematographers for the Met Live in HD, founded in 2006, all might have something to say about that.
We still have to answer questions of when to release films, and how to fairly pay the cast, crew, and creatives, but these should not be obstacles to documenting theatre. Filming live theatre provides access to theatre for people who may not be able to see a production due to geography, cost, or disability. It is an incredible educational tool, not just for students, but for historians, industry folks, and the wider public. Digital technology has made captures easier, more dynamic, and more watchable than ever.
All of this is why I started Filmed Live Musicals. As a place to catalog the musicals that have been legally captured for the screen and publicly distributed, to provide a space for people to find that content, and to show the historic value of filmed live musicals. Ultimately, it is a way to capture ephemeral moments in time so that we may enjoy them, learn from them, and remember the musicals, even when the bodies inside the now-disintegrated costumes have turned to dust.
Filmed Live Musicals now has a podcast! We will talk about the world of filmed live musicals, interview creatives, actors, producers and industry folks, look at the research being carried out on filmed theatre, dive into some history, and, of course, talk about the musicals themselves!
In our first episode, host Luisa Lyons and guest host Al Monaco take a look at firsts in filmed live musicals.
In episode two, out on August 3, Luisa chats with the founder of Scenesaver, Caroline Friedman. Scenesaver is a new platform making performances from the world's off-Broadway, off West End, small theatres, and emerging artists available to everyone online. It's free to register and watch with over 150 shows of all genres from around the world available now!
Subscribe on your preferred podcast app and join us for the Filmed Live Musicals podcast!
“I'm sorry theater only exists in one place at a time but that is also its magic.”
There is a widespread belief that watching theatre on screen means you’re no longer experiencing “theatre.” While I would agree that the phenomenon of theatre on screen needs a new name, there is a small but growing body of research to show that watching filmed live theatre is just as exciting a way of experiencing theatre as being in the room where it happens.
Given that the vast majority of filmed live theatre is coming from the United Kingdom, it should come as no surprise that the research is also being conducted there. Arts Council England, the Society of London Theatres (SOLT), UK Theatre, and, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), have all released reports investigating audiences’ responses to watching live theatre on screen.
A finding across across all the reports is that watching theatre on screen is not a replacement for live theatre, but an alternative way to consume it. In writing about enjoying opera on the cinema screen, British commentator Clemency Burton-Hill wrote
while there is nothing like sitting in the plush red velvet of the Royal Opera House stalls, waiting in anticipation for that legendary red-and-gilt curtain to rise, watching it in the cinema is an exhilarating alternative when I can’t be there in person."
The research also shows that audiences can have strong emotional reactions to live theatre on screen. During real-time live broadcasts, audiences have reported feeling a part of the live experience, despite not being physically in the theatre.
Shakespeare scholar Erin Sullivan reiterates this in the newly published Shakespeare and the ‘Live’ Theatre Broadcast Experience, adding that audiences do not even need to be viewing a broadcast in real time in order to be moved by theatre on screen. Watching a live performance on screen, even years after the performance has taken place can still generate an emotional response. Sullivan also discusses how social media has allowed audiences to engage with content in a new way, making “spectatorship visible in a way that has not been previously possible.”
The internet is not only creating new ways of interacting with theatre, recent reports suggest that streamed theatre attracts a younger, and a more culturally, and economically, diverse audience. As columnist Christopher Zara has noted, “streaming media [makes] Broadway more accessible,… ultimately preserving it for the next generation.”
And what about the room where it happens? Is theatre on screen negatively affecting ticket sales in the theatre? The Audience Agency, a British charity aiming to help arts organizations use national data to understand audiences, recently found that there was “a small net increase in arts attendance in areas where there had been a screening.” In an earlier blog post, I took a look at how Broadway ticket sales are affected by filmed live theatre and found that ticket sales were not negatively affected.
In an article comparing the experience of watching Kenneth Brannaugh’s Romeo and Juliet on stage and screen, British theatre critic Peter Bradshaw noted “People watching a football match on TV as opposed to in the stadium can still have a great time – without worrying that it’s inauthentic, or that they have somehow made a wrong or disloyal choice.” While academics Bernadette Cochrane and Francer Bonner believe comparing live theatre to live sport on screen will reduce the “cultural capital” of theatre, the research is showing that live theatre on screen is a viable alternative to being in the room where it happens.
The magic of technology means we can experience theatre magic in a room thousands of miles from where the action is taking place. Will you be in the next room?
Filmed Live Musicals is a labor of love that takes many hours of research and hundreds of dollars to run.
Thank you to Star patrons Mercedes Esteban-Lyons, Jesse Rabinowitz and Brenda Goodman, and David and Katherine Rabinowitz for financially supporting the site.
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The recent cinema livestreams and releases of filmed live musicals An American in Paris and Everybody's Talking About Jamie show how live musicals are increasingly going to the movies. This week, we're taking a look at some of the new technology being rolled out in cinemas around the world that provide exciting possibilities for the future of filmed live musicals and the cinema-going experience.
4D cinema, also known as immersive cinema, is considered by some as the new frontier of the cinema going experience. With its motion-enabled seats, water spray, lighting effects, scented air, wind machines, and even bubbles and snow, 4D is no longer just for theme parks, it’s coming to a local cinema near you!
First commercially developed in the 1980s, 4D cinemas are now in operation around the world. At the time of writing, there are approximately 40 4D theatres in operation in the United States. Tickets cost around $30, and the admissions guidelines read like an amusement park ride warning — “If you are pregnant, elderly, physically or mentally sensitive or have any of the following health conditions, you should not use a 4DX auditorium: high blood pressure, heart conditions, allergies, neck or back conditions or epilepsy.”
Over 100 films have been viewable in 4D, with the vast majority of films falling into the blockbuster, action movie, and animation categories. Titles have included Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Avengers, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and, most recently, The Incredibles 2.
Can 4D be effective for other film genres? More importantly for Filmed Live Musicals, could this technology be applied to the filmed live theatre experience? Could we somehow re-create the smell of theatre in which a musical was filmed, or the strong perfume worn by an audience member? Would bursts of air be felt when an actor walks past us on the screen? Would we feel a spray of water to mimic the sweat of a dancer during a tap routine? `
North American theatre chain Regal Movies describes their 4DX theatres as the “Absolute Cinema Experience” that makes you feel like you’re “in the movie” (my emphasis), but reviews suggest 4D cinema is not all it’s cracked up to be. Several critics have described attending 4D cinema as akin to riding a bad rollercoaster, and that the attempts to make the experience “immersive” only serve to bring the viewer out of the film.
Do you think 4D cinema will catch on?
An exciting new technology that is more likely to be compatible with filmed live musicals are Moviebills. Developed by US cinema compamyRegal Entertainment Group, and launched in April 2018, Moviebills comprise of a 28-page print magazine, phone app, and website, which provide users with print and augmented reality (AR) content including interviews, bonus footage, behind-the-scenes info, and more.
Looks super cool right? Moviebills are only available for select blockbuster movies, and only in Regal Cinemas.
I’m hoping other companies, and perhaps even live theatres, will want to jump in on this fun innovation. New York City's Classic Stage Company only offered digital programs for their recent production of Carmen Jones, and the UK's National Theatre provides digital programs through their Backstage app for a small fee (only available in the UK).
On Demand Cinema
With so many entertainment options available to audiences at home, the cinema industry has been working hard to lure customers back into the theatres. An interesting new development in this endeavor is on-demand movie theaters.
In 2013, Australian distributor Leap Frog Films launched Demand Film, a service that books film screenings of niche films in cinemas based on audience demand. Users request a movie, and Demand Film organizes a screening. The user must sell a minimum number of tickets for the screening to go ahead, and once the minimum is met, the user can make money from the ticket sales. Demand Film is currently available in Australia, New Zealand, UK, Ireland, Germany, Canada, and the United States.
Chinese online entertainment service iQiyi announced in May the launch of Yuke movie theatres. The cinemas are like mini movie theatres, with 2-10 comfy seats and a large screen. Users select content from the extensive iQiyi library and watch it in a Yuke cinema, at the time and location of their choosing.
Could we one day get a group of friends together at our local cinema and watch a Broadway or West End show?
Whether or not these technologies take off, one thing is clear: these new innovations are making more and more content available to us in ever more exciting ways. I'll be checking out the filmed live London production of An American in Paris at the cinema in a few weeks. Follow on Twitter for updates!
This content originally appeared in the July edition of the Patron-only newsletter. If you would like first access to bonus content, join the Filmed Live Musicals Patron today!
Filmed Live Musicals is a labor of love that takes many hours of research and hundreds of dollars to run.
Many thank you's to Star patrons Mercedes Esteban-Lyons, Jesse Rabinowitz and Brenda Goodman, and David and Katherine Rabinowitz for financially supporting the site.
Critical reviews carry a lot of weight, despite being the opinion of just one person, who is usually white and male. Positive reviews can generate hype and ensure a show’s success, while negative reviews can quickly close shows. In addition to providing contemporary audiences with (hopefully) educated opinions, reviews also serve as a public historical record of the theatre.
When it comes to filmed live musicals, the critical analysis and historical record is rather thin. At the end of the day, very few filmed live musicals are being critically reviewed. Is it that theatre critics don’t review films? Or that film critics don’t review theatre? Perhaps it is a lack of critics who understand both theatre and film, and more importantly, the hybrid that is formed when the two come together in a filmed live theatrical event. Or perhaps it is simply the fact that filmed live musicals are not taken seriously as an art form.
Filmed live musicals on television are sometimes reviewed for inclusion in “What’s On” guides. Prime time specials like Jesus Christ Superstar Live also draw a lot of attention, but these are the exception rather than the rule.
Filmed live musicals that are consistently reviewed are those that are released on Blu-ray. The official Blu-ray site, www.blu-ray.com provides outstanding reviews of filmed live musicals that analyze the content of the film, as well as technical aspects, such as image and sound quality, of the Blu-Ray. There are currently only 7 filmed live musicals in the database that have been released on Blu-ray. A rather dismal number for the review situation.
Social media, particularly Twitter, is useful for anecdotal reviews. It can provide an insight into fan-base reactions to filmed live content, but these “reviews” may not be widely read.
The ever increasing frequency of filmed live musical events, encore screenings, and the prevalence of bootlegs, show audiences want filmed live musical content. Official critical responses will help increase the legitimacy of filmed live musicals, and give them their rightful place in the history of theatre.
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With the introduction of sound on film, cinema underwent an identity crisis. What to call these new fan-dangled talking pictures? In 1928, film trade newspaper Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World led a campaign to try and come up with a new name. Common labels included “talkies,” “soundies,” “lispies,” “synchronized pictures,” and “audible pictures.” Suggestions ranged from “audien,” “cinelog,” and “dramaphone,” to “pictovox,” “viewvoice,” and, my personal favorite, “vivavox.”
For the purposes of this site, I define a filmed live musical as a stage musical that has been legally captured and distributed to the public. The deeper question I would like to look at today is, what is the final product that is distributed? Is it theatre? Is it cinema?
Filmed live musicals are distributed and advertised under different names, including “filmed live theatre,” “live cinema,” “transmission,” “HD transmission,” “cine-cast,” and “live capture.” Makers and distributors of filmed live theatre, including The National Theatre and Digital Theatre, describe filmed live theatre as a hybrid of theatre and cinema.
“Filmed live” can be a confusing label. How do we distinguish between a musical that is broadcast live, and an encore screening of that live broadcast? Is it still “live” if the screening takes place months, or even years, after the actual event?
I would love to find a new name for filmed live theatre that reflects this hybridity.
Several studies show that audiences see attending filmed theatre at the cinema as an equally authentic way to experience live performance as going to the theatre. Recent studies also suggest that audiences have more emotional responses to filmed live theatre than they do in the actual theatre.
As evidenced by the success of National Theatre Live, Met Opera Live, the growth of theatre streaming services like Digital Theatre, and BroadwayHD, and the persistence of bootlegs, audiences are craving filmed live theatre content. We need to clearly define filmed live theatre, and label it, to make it accessible and searchable.
For now, “filmed live musicals” is the term I’m going with (hence the name of the site!), but I think it would be fun to come up with other terms that help filmed live musicals reach new audiences.
What do you think? Share your suggestions on the Facebook page or on Twitter!
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